Thoughts on the #TwtrSymphony and Birds of a Feather

When I first saw the TwtrSymphony project unfolding on twitter, it was quite an interesting prospect–Even though we’d seen the YouTube Symphony twice now, with 2 completely different rounds of musicians that played two programs of mostly classics, this was an all-new concept where the musicians would stay at home and record their parts from there, and the piece would be an original one by composer/TwtrSymphony founder Chip Michael.

Chip spoke about the concept in an interview we did last June.


We’re working with entirely new music, written specifically for the musicians we have. During the audition process, we had guitarists, saxophonists and a recorder player want to participate. Everyone was welcome to audition. The final orchestra has both an electric guitar and a classical guitar, a full range of saxophones as well as the standard compliment of orchestral instruments. The music we’re playing reflects those unique instruments as part of the full ensemble.
Rather than playing pieces from the existing repertoire, we chose to play original pieces limited to 140 seconds in a nod to the 140 character limit Twitter imposes. Twitter is conversation encapsulated, distilled to it’s core elements. The music of TwtrSymphony has to do the same thing. Each movement of our symphony “Birds of a Feather” is complete in the details you’d expect from the traditional four movements: the first movement is Sonata-Allegro form, the second movement is slow, the third movement is ostensibly a minuet and trio and the final movement is a theme and variation. The music captures the essence of the classical forms we know and presents them in less than 2 minutes and 20 seconds.

He also spoke about the symphony’s theme.

Twitter’s logo is a small blue bird, and we have taken on that avian theme for the first music. “The Hawk Goes Hunting” strives to give each musician in the orchestra a chance to shine. With just over 2 minutes of music and a full orchestra, it isn’t possible to give everyone a solo moment, so I relied on creating moments where the horn section could shine, and then allow the clarinets to do the same…and so on. I also wanted the piece to keep with classical form, so it is in Sonata-Allegro form (albeit a very short version). There are two themes in the exposition, a development section, a recapitulation and even a coda.

The piece itself is very much a miniature symphony with a traditional structure and settings of a multi-movement work. Stylistically, it is a classically symphonic piece in the tradition of concert music, and Michael’s musical language has lots of elements that draw from both the melodic and dissonant schools of 20th century music. The piece carries a theme in the opening movement through the rest of the piece that makes it continuous in nature.
I almost could not picture myself reviewing this like I would a full 40-mins or more piece, but once I heard it, despite that it still runs under 10 mins, it feels to me like a feature-length work. The musicians are definitely giving extraordinary readings in this piece.

My only real problem with it is the sound of the instruments. The parts were recorded separately, and while Chip has done a commendable job mixing the tracks together in a rather seamless way that would have you think they were recorded simultaneously, there is a sort of flat quality that results from the individual recordings, and it makes one wonder if that actually is a quality that would be lost if the players gathered and recorded the piece together at SUNY Purchase or any proper studio. I suppose that really is more of a charm than a weakness.

Chip Michael: Symphony #2, “Birds of a Feather” (II: Birds of Paradise)

Regardless of those trappings, it’s still a remarkable experiment that hopefully will continue and become more progressive in quality and stature.

Click here to stream all of Birds of a Feather (Symphony #2)



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